By Valerie C. Coffey
I lived in the Boston area for 24 years from 1990 to 2014, and sometimes friends ask me where they should go and what to do when visiting Beantown. I lived mostly along the I-495 “tech corridor” in Marlborough, Sudbury, Shrewsbury, Franklin, Natick, Boxborough, and Acton. I worked all over — in Framingham, Natick, Norwood, Worcester, Boston, Cambridge, Medford, Chelmsford, Nashua N.H., and S. Andover (unless I forgot something). I commuted to Boston and Cambridge for about 7 years via the commuter rail and driving — sometimes 4 hours a day. Ugh.
Boston is not a great city to drive to, or drive in. Needless to say, I did a lot of walking around the city, and it’s an inherently walkable city. Like Paris. In fact, Boston and Paris have a lot in common. I have a love/hate relationship with both of those cities, Boston and Paris. At the risk of pissing off a lot of people who LOVE these cities — I mean no offense, but if you know these cities, you know the traffic sucks. Drivers are super aggressive. There’s no parking and if you find it, you have to pay through the nose for it. The weather sucks (you can’t deny it — Paris has no A/C in the summer, and Boston gets more rain per annum on average than Seattle. Way more). The strangers you come across are mostly assholes (that’s why the word Masshole is a thing)– don’t bother saying hello to anyone (they don’t respond) or trying to be chatty with a clerk (in Paris, they will rudely tell you stop talking because your French is terrrible; in Boston they will think something is wrong with you and wonder what you WANT from them). If you sit still long enough, panhandlers hit you up for handouts. But the history is amazing. A big river runs through both cities. The Hancock Tower is a gorgeous central piece of architecture like the Eiffel Tower is to Paris (okay it’s a stretch but they both tower over their surroundings and are beautiful). The food is world class. Meh, I guess they’re both okay.
One fun way to see the city is to take an amphibious Duck Tour (www.bostonducktours.com). Tours leave several times a day from the Museum of Science, the Prudential Center, and the New England Aquarium. The open-air buses give a tour of the city by street, then a 20-minute ride down the Charles river. Tickets are $42.99/adult, $34.99/seniors and active military, $28.99/children.
A lot of tourists to Boston do the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile walking tour of Boston that goes from the Bunker Hill Monument to the Boston Common and the Massachusetts New State House. If you follow the Trail, it takes you to 16 different historic sites, including the Park Street Church, the Paul Revere House, and the Old South Meeting House. The Old State House and site of the Boston Massacre are on the Trail, along with Fanueil Hall and the USS Constitution. The Old North Church is on the Freedom Trail, where Paul Revere looked for the lanterns signaling “one if by land, two if by sea.” Also on the Trail are some of the oldest cemeteries in the U.S. Most of the Freedom Trail is marked by a red brick stripe implanted in the sidewalk.
You could spend half a day or you could spend several days just enjoying the historic destinations along the Freedom Trail. But I have always preferred a path that takes you from the waterfront to Back Bay. I call it the Val Tour.
I have taken many a visitor to Boston along this path, including kids and older folks. You do need to be able to walk a few miles, so wear comfy walking shoes. But it’s worth it. You’ll see so much more by walking than you would by car or on the “T” (Boston’s subway/tram system, which is mostly underground). Make sure your phone is well charged to help you navigate from point A to B.
- My ten-point tour starts at the New England Aquarium, where I like to stop and watch the harbor seals playing in their exhibit out front.
2. Parking at the Aquarium is about as expensive as parking can be anywhere (last I checked, $39 for anything over 1 hr 20 mins). GAHHHHH! So if you can park anywhere else – do it. Parking is cheaper at nearby Fanueil Hall garage but still over $20 on weekdays, $15 on weekends. Better yet, leave the car at one of the far ends of the “T” (Boston’s Metro Transportation Authority, MBTA or subway system, the oldest subway in the world!) for the day and take the T to the Aquarium. For example, coming from the west of the city, I would park at Alewife Station in Cambridge for the day and take the T to the Aquarium. You could also park at Riverside Station or Oak Grove, depending on where you’re staying.
Here’s the MBTA map:
3. From the Aquarium, I like to walk north along the Boston Harborwalk a bit. It used to be that you couldn’t walk along Boston’s waterfront. But since 2000, about 38 miles of waterfront have been purchased from private and corporate owners to create public parks that are mostly linked up. So you can walk much of the waterfront’s parks and paths now. From the Harborwalk, turn (L) on State Street or Mercantile St. to head to Fanueil Hall and Quincy Market. The Fanueil Hall Marketplace is historic and has two rows of outdoor pedestrian shopping and eateries. Walk through Quincy Market “The Great Hall,” and out the other side.
Fanueil Hall Marketplace in summer (Quincy Market Building is the red brick building with white trim in the background)
4. Head toward Congress Street and turn (L) on Congress. After about a block turn (L) again on Devonshire St, to the Boston Massacre Site.
Boston Massacre Sight, where the British Redcoats killed 5 American civilians in 1770, sparking outrage that led to the American Revolution.
5. Follow Devonshire St. to take a right on Water Street to Downtown Crossing, which is a bustling pedestrian shopping area centered on Washington Street and Summer Street, marked by Macy’s and the Jeweler’s building – where any suitor in Boston heads to get the best deals on diamonds.
6. From Downtown Crossing, turn R onto Summer Street (west) toward the Park Street T Station and Boston Common. Be careful crossing busy Tremont St. and head to the Brewer Fountain on the Common. Pick up the Freedom Trail and head across the Common toward the State House, the state capitol building of Massachusetts. You can get a nice view of the State House without leaving the Boston Common. The dome on the State house was originally wood, and when it leaked it was covered in copper by Paul Revere himself in 1802. He was a silversmith and…coppersmith! The dome has quite a history; in 1997 it was gilded with 23k gold.
7. From the state house, walk through Boston Common toward the Boston Public Garden swan boats. You must cross busy Charles Street. You could spend all afternoon in the Gardens, looking at flowers, watching people paddle the swan boats. Don’t miss the iconic statue of George Washington.
8. But rather than fritter away the whole day in the park, I like to keep going toward Trinity Church in Back Bay. The monolithic Hancock Tower, Boston’s tallest building (and where Val worked on the 52nd floor at a solar industry analyst firm in 2007) dwarfs the Trinity Church, which is reflected in the mirrored sides of the Hancock Tower. This is Copley Plaza, a great people-watching place and it’s very photogenic. If you cross the street from Trinity Church toward the Hancock Tower, you’ll see the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel to the right. This is a gorgeous historic motel, and you can go right in AS IF you’re staying there and use the bathrooms just inside the lobby! Ha ha. I do this every damn time. The bathrooms are marble and gilded and they smell nice.
9. From Copley Plaza, I like to cross over Dartmouth Street and go into the Westin Copley Place, a high-end mall and another nice place to people watch. From this mall, you can walk all the way to the Prudential Center indoors. In Boston in the winter time, as a commuter, this was a great way to go several blocks indoors! Even in the summer it rains a LOT, so you can walk through the Westin Copley Place, toward and past the Sheraton, and cross over the street in the pedestrian walkway overpass toward The Shops at Prudential Center.
10. To end the tour, head to the Skywalk Observatory at the top of the Pru. You’ll get a sky-high vantage point of Boston with an audio tour and a 360-degree view. The last admission is at 9:30 pm during the summer, and is $21/adults. In my tour, I like to be there for the sunset.
Added bonus: From there, if you have time for dinner, continue walking through the Pru Center toward the Hynes Convention Center and out onto Boylston Street. Head to Newbury Street via one of the alphabetical cross streets (Arlington, Berkeley, Clarendon, Dartmouth, Exeter, Fairfield Gloucester, or Hereford Streets). You’ll be closest to Hereford Street. Newbury Street is full of antique shops and outdoor eateries of all kinds. Get dinner at an Asian Fusion restaurant, or go for Italian at Papa Razzi. You’ll need a reservation if it’s a Friday or Saturday!
Boston and the New England region has so much more to see. In an extended visit, I recommend Salem, Cape Cod, and the White Mountains of New Hampshire. But this is a good start if you only have a half a day to explore and get a feel for the city. Cheers!
A belated Happy New Year to our friends, family, and loyal readers, old and new, from Mitch and Val in SoCal!
We’ve been quietly enjoying the region of Palm Springs, California, since October, and plan to stay a while. Most of our activity has been on our facebook page. But I haven’t forgotten about my blog, and I don’t intend to stop writing about all those adventures, even if it’s weeks or months after the fact. We’ve had a lot going on, had a wonderful holiday with lots of friends and family, and I’ve been too preoccupied to blog. But we have too many pictures and adventures *not* to write about them!
But for now…
It’s long overdue, but finally, here’s our YouTube channel brand video debut for RVLuckyOrWhat. Thanks to Mitch’s son Greg for putting it together as a project in his film class at the University of Utah!!! We LOVE it!!! It’s a gift we’ll always cherish! What a great way to sum up our almost 2.5 years of full-time RV adventures on the road.
By Valerie Coffey
One of the best things about this life roaming the US in an RV is visiting friends and family around the country. All the new people Mitch and I meet are a huge bonus. What’s hard about this life, however, is that you miss a sense of community. You miss your friends from home, you miss going to their events and seeing your neighbors around, and seeing people you know when you’re out.
So it means so much when you meet someone with so much in common, and then you come to find out you’ll be in the same place again down the road. So it was with Marc and Julie Bennett of RV Love.
Ah, the beauty of the interwebs! We “met” Marc and Julie Bennett of RV Love through Instagram, the social media app that lets you share inspiring pictures. Then, on a walk around the Garden of the Gods RV Park in Colorado Springs one June evening, Mitch and I noticed their Allegro bus rig and little MINI Cooper convertible displaying their logo, “Live. Love. Travel. RV Love.” And I immediately recognized their brand. I looked them up, sent them a message and we met for social hour around their campfire.
Whereas most full-time RVers are retired, Marc and Julie are full-time RVers who are working age, like us. Marc grew up in Colorado, while Julie grew up in Sydney, Australia. Also like us, they sold their sticks & bricks home to expand their horizons and see the USA in a motorhome. Marc works full-time as Operations Manager for a nutritional supplement company, and Julie is a lifestyle coach. In the sharing of their journey via their blog and social media platforms, they’ve become a social media sensation with a following of thousands and over half a million views on their YouTube channel!
We had a lot of fun hanging out with the Bennetts during our time in Colorado Springs. We were all scheduled to be at Cherry Creek State Park in Aurora, Colorado, at the same time about a week later, so we made plans to meet them again down the road. We went to TAG restaurant in Denver with them to celebrate their two-year “nomadiversary” – just a few weeks before ours!
Julie and I bonded easily like two long-lost girlfriends, even though she looks like she could be my much-younger daughter. I’m a jolly giant at 5’10” and she’s a spritely elf at 4’8”! And we had a laugh when we found out that I went to high school in Sparks, Nevada, with Marc’s boss, Bert Wegner! I have stories about parties at Bert’s house back in the day. What’s even funnier is that Bert is my Friend on Facebook; Bert noticed the picture of the four of us together (Marc, Julie, Mitch and I) and he did a double take because he thought Marc was Mitch. A few people have commented on the resemblance of Marc and Mitch – they could be brothers!
I asked Marc and Julie some questions about their life on the road, and their answers make a great story. Read on to see why we love RV Love:
By Valerie C. Coffey
Mitch and I have been so busy with work and exploring new places that I haven’t blogged in over two months – I hope you can forgive me, dear reader. I have at least been posting frequently to my accounts on Instagram and Facebook, so if you’re ever wondering what we’re up to, please check out the action there. This week finds us in Page, Arizona, at beautiful Lake Powell! It’s great to have been in Utah’s red-rock country for the past six weeks. While in Bryce Canyon, Utah, two weeks ago, we celebrated our two-year “nomadiversary!” It’s hard to believe we are now in our third year of living, traveling, and working from our RV full-time!
Our travel post this week comes to you from our visit to Colorado Springs in June. Mitch and I spent six weeks in Colorado from early June through mid-July. We left loving the state even more than we already did. Before our full-time RV adventure started in 2012, we had both spent time in Colorado – Mitch on vacations, skiing and RVing with his kids, and Valerie having lived in Grand Junction, Colorado, for six years in elementary and junior high school. But neither of us had ever spent much time in the city of Colorado Springs – our loss entirely.
Garden of the Gods RV Resort sounds nice, right? Well, the RV park is not as impressive as its name. Although the website claims “spectacular views of Pike’s Peak,” we noticed that the trees pretty much obscure the view throughout the campground. It wasn’t even worth a picture of the RV in its site. But the location near the mountainous west side of Colorado Springs (near the town of Manitou Springs) was perfect for exploring numerous sights. In fact, CO Springs had *so* much to do and see, that our ten days there were barely enough.
Each of the following “Things To Do” are “Must-Sees” in and around CO Springs. Each deserves its own blog post. But as time, metered data, and cellular connection are limited, I’ll stick to just the top few.
By Valerie C. Coffey
After spending the spring of 2016 RVing through the desert southwest, is it any surprise that I took at least 100 pictures of cactus? Doesn’t everyone take pictures of cactus? Maybe not, but perhaps it seems less nutty in light of the fact that Mitch and I were in several gorgeous state parks and national parks where cactus was in full bloom.
So with apologies to Sheldon Cooper (you know, the nerd on Big Bang Theory who does a “Fun With Flags” video series), allow me to present some amazing, informative and amusing facts about southwest cacti for the cause of cacti awareness. I bring you, Fun With Cactus.
I am by no means a cactus expert, I’m just an amateur nature enthusiast and a science writer. So I do know how to research things. And compared to Mitch, I’m a flora and fauna expert. So I’m just gonna go for it, but don’t quote me. And if you identify any mis-identifications, let me know!
By Valerie Coffey
We have not been posting as much to our blog as we’d like in 2016. I’ve only managed to write a blog post about once a month. Sorry! We’ve been so very busy! Let us fill you in!
Since I last posted about our travels, we’ve explored the entire southern border of the US with Mexico. We left from San Diego in mid-March, and have now gone all the way to South Padre Island at the tip of Texas!
Along the way we stopped in the Yuma area (near the border of AZ and CA) for a few days, where we visited with our friends Roger and Gail and I got the RV stuck in deep sand. (Yeah, I’m gonna cruise right past that embarrassing story and save it for another day.) Then we walked over the Mexican border at Los Algodones, a popular destination for retirees and RVers to get state-of-the art but inexpensive pharmaceuticals, eyeglasses, and dental check-ups! We saved a lot of money and enjoyed some margaritas in the sunshine while we were there.
We stayed in Tucson for two weeks, visiting our friends Keith and Nicole Davis and seeing everything we missed last year, including Old Tucson Studios, Tombstone, and Bisbee. We saw Val’s cousins in Las Cruces, NM, and hiked nearby Dripping Springs Natural Area.
(By the way, if you’re wondering where we are, or you feel like you’re missing some of our adventures, be sure to “like” our public Facebook page, RVLuckyOrWhat. I post a pantload of stuff there, and only by “liking” our page will our posts come up in your newsfeed. You can also follow us on Instagram at RVLuckyOrWhat.)
All of this repeating of previous destinations from last year was mostly just to get to Big Bend National Park in the southwestern elbow of Texas – one of the biggest national parks left on our list to visit in the RV, and one of the hardest to get to! With over 800,000 acres of protected area, Big Bend is BIG, but only a fraction the size of Death Valley National Park in CA with its 3.4 million acres.
And much like Death Valley, Big Bend is the most amazing park most people have never heard of, much less been to (unless of course, you live nearby or have already discovered it). Mitch had never heard of Big Bend before we started our trip, and I’d only seen pictures of it online but didn’t know much about it. We set our sights on it for year two, scheduling it for early April. (Be sure to read my article, Ten Reasons Death Valley is to Die For, if you haven’t already. I’ll wait.)
My expectations of our first long-awaited visit to Big Bend National Park included sweeping mountain vistas and hiking adventures. I also expected April in Big Bend to involve flowering cactus and extreme heat countered with cool views of the Rio Grande (the river that defines the border between Texas and Mexico). We were not disappointed. What I didn’t expect was how many amazing deep canyons it holds. Nor did I understand that Big Bend is an animal bonanza in the middle of the one of the most remote spots in the U.S.
By Valerie Coffey
Love camping and travel? Dreaming about buying a recreational vehicle (RV)? When it comes to shopping for an RV, the choices can be overwhelming. Where do you start? The answer depends on numerous factors with a tangle of pros and cons, and is quite different for everyone.
When you start your search, you’ll need to understand the different classes of RVs. Each type has its pluses and minuses.
By Valerie Coffey
In April of 2014, Mitch and I took our first RV trip together a few months before we purchased our new home on wheels. We thought a short trial voyage with a rental RV would be a good idea before we exchanged our sticks & bricks house in Massachusttes for full-time life on the road. (Um. Ya think!?) Mitch had some experience RVing on family vacations but me, not so much.
So we took a road trip, rented a 36′ Winnebago from a private owner in Pennslvania, and drove it to Virginia for a long weekend.
I was sold on the RV lifestyle immediately! What a rush to be riding high, looking out the big windshield at the view, angsting at every turn and at every overhead branch and cable, but every minute becoming more comfortable behind the wheel of a big rig.
But perhaps what *really* romanced me was the rental advertisement for the RV we rented. In the ad, the rig was pictured at a tropical waterfront site in Key West, Florida. The owner told us that he took this picture of his rig at Boyd’s Key West Campground, a popular RV destination in Key West that required booking months in advance. We couldn’t wait to get there!
Now that we’ve stayed for a longer period at numerous RV campgrounds in the Keys, we found Boyd’s was only the tip of the iceberg. The Keys are chock full of great places to camp or RV! We found some other sites we liked even better!
Here’s our take on several amazing RV parks in and around Key West…